Holistic Learning-what is it?

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Let’s start at the beginning – Traditional Learning

Before exploring what could be, let’s look at what education currently is.

Traditional learning is usually thought of as the act of having a teacher who understands content, teaching a student who does not understand the same content.

This manner of teaching is as old as human civilization. It’s not hard to picture our old cavemen ancestors grunting at younger cave-kids showing them how to make fire.

While clearly more sophisticated now, most traditional teaching systems don’t deviate heavily from our cavemen friend’s scenario earlier. Believe me when I sincerely mean no offense to this. Education, for the most part, is driven by having a student be taught the do’s and don’ts of subjects like Math and English.

In other word, teachers are told to take something complex and simplify it till those who don’t understand it, eventually do.

“So what’s the difference between Traditional and Holistic Learning?”

The difference is the focus. Traditional learning places emphasis on the ‘Content’, while Holistic learning places emphasis on the ‘people’.

Truthfully speaking, content is still an aspect, but it takes more of a background role. The foreground places emphasis on each party involved in learning. This can become complicated due to the variables involved with people – but they can be grouped together.

The 3 Focus variable groups in Holistic Learning

1. Physical Variables

These involve anything related to tangible things you can see or track easily. Things like:

  • Amount of Sleep
  • Quality of nutrition from diet
  • Amount and type of Excercise
  • Overall Health
  • Genetic predispositions
  • Complexity of content

2. Mental Variables

These involve anything related to intangible or are harder to track precisely.

  • Mindset of student
  • Interest in material/ or learning in general
  • Knowledge on how to improve
  • Student Values

3. Social Support Variables

The previous 2 variables relate more to the student, while these are anything external that may influence the student’s outcome.

  • Socio-Economic Background
  • Available free time
  • Support Network (Teacher, parents, friends)

So why bother looking at these variables?

To no one’s surprise, it turns out that people are fairly complex. What works for one person, might not for another. While some might say that’s just how life works, others want to explore everything that can improve a student’s performance.

Not only could each of these variables can and have multiple books written on them, but each of them also influences others.

At this point most people wonder these questions;

“Is Holistic Learning better?”

“If it’s better, why isn’t it done more often?”

Is Holistic Learning better?

In short, yes. The idea is that by understanding the circumstances of an individual, a teacher can go beyond just the transfer of content information. In practice, holistic teaching focuses on the causes of student performance, rather than the symptoms.

If it’s better, why isn’t it done more often?

2 common reasons it isn’t done more often are:

  1. Lack of time and resources
  2. Complexity

Imagine you are a school teacher tasked with 25+ students. How do you go about taking the time to learn the in’s and out’s of every student? Further still, even if you manage to do so, you only have a remaining fraction of the year to work with them.

So is it just impossible?

Not necessarily. Some education systems have done a good job at pulling off a holistic model that works for school settings. One example comes from
Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, Finland. The culture of the school is a ‘whatever it takes’ model of teaching – with a core school principle being an emphasis on learning how to learn, rather than learning how to take a test. Read more here

Even if you aren’t conveniently in Finland, you can still encourage more holistic learning through a similar method of the Kirkkojarvi school. It all has to do with what the ‘culture’ the student is in.

If you’re a parent, place a real emphasis on the interest and effort that goes into learning anything, rather than just the end result or bring in an external service like tutoring that can place a one on one emphasis with the student.

If you’re a teacher, to the best of your ability, help kids learn how to learn (though I’m fully aware of the limitations of school administration)

If you’re a principal of a school, take direct inspiration from the previous example and encourage a culture that allows teachers to help kids learn how to learn.

Lastly, if you’re a student. At the end of the day you can only control, what you can control – so do so. If you possess the ability to Google and you are saying you don’t know how to study – try googling how to study. My point is that the support network is 1/3 of the equation, so do your best to make the other 2/3’s strong where you can.

In the end, the shift from Traditional learning to Holistic learning isn’t the work of an individual, but everyone involved in the process of education.

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